Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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Twas the Week Before Christmas

And all around the farm, the creatures were stirring....







Really looking for something to harm......did you think I was going through that whole poem?  Really........

Today was one of those wintertime treats!  Sunny....mid 40's at some point during the day.  It's funny how 50, cloudy and breezy is intolerable but 33 and sunny calm is great!

One of the projects on my "to do" list for the winter is to mulch around the blackberries and blueberries and I got started on that yesterday......



I know, I know, the black leaf holders are kind of ugly, but they do keep the leaves from blowing around until they are put in their place.  I'm using layers of newspaper around the bushes then lots of leaves to keep the weeds down.  I do have lots of leaves....



I LOVE my leaves!



Each season, John, Dear (that would be my tractor) and I spread a thick layer of leaves over every inch of garden space, in the chicken pens, and wherever I want new garden ground.  I did get the orchard completely mulched last week as well---yay!



One thing I'm experimenting with this year is planting seedlings in the high tunnel throughout the winter season.  Most of the crops in high tunnels are planted in late September/early October but in the hurry of getting another high tunnel built this year and all the other chores I have around the farm, the big high tunnel wasn't completely planted before cold weather set in.  I'm experimenting to see if everything doesn't need to be planted at the same time.  So far I've planted endive, yellow and scarlet mustard, braising mix, assorted varieties of lettuce, sorrel, and kale.  The first test plot was planted about 3 weeks ago and I've harvested a few greens from them.  Today I planted another 5 flats of seedlings and we'll see how they do.   True, things do grow slower this time of year, but they do still grow!  I say hopefully next year I'll have time to get everything in earlier :-)

Okay, now scroll back up to the first pictures.  The kittens follow me into the high tunnels and catch and eat grasshoppers!  I don't know how to reward a cat, but I make a big deal when they catch one.

(2nd pic) Hattie the Catahoula dug in that bed for hours--then she came up with a mouse!  I was so proud--that's one I won't have to deal with :-)  Notice one of the Happy Hens had made her way up to the bed.....see next pic....

The chickens were in their pen and I was in the back garden spreading leaves.  This garden is really close to their pen, and they were following me up and down the fence.  I got to thinking--hmmm what is there to keep them in the pen?  Just a fence--no gardens to scratch up and destroy, so I let them loose.  They had a ball!  I think I'll let them out again tomorrow...it's supposed to be pretty here again (yay).

Until next time.....


Summer is in full swing

Wow, it's amazing how fast this summer is moving!  The rain has finally slowed down, although there are still puddles here and there on the farm where it used to be dry during "normal" weather. This year kind of reminds me of a trip to Vermont that my family made back in 1990 during the middle of August.  We were camping in a tent and while I was packing for the trip it was like 90 degrees so I was packing shorts, t-shirts, bathing suits,  that sort of stuff, but I did throw in one pair of pants per person just in case.  Well, turns out that we wore the pair of pants most of the week, picked blackberries in long sleeves and the folks in Vermont hadn't even seen a ripe tomato yet.

Hello!.....just a few days ago it was 49 degrees here and I'm picking blackberries and I can still say that there hasn't been a peck of tomatoes harvested from the 400 plants I have planted, including the ones in the high tunnel!  It's just been too cloudy for a tomato to get ripe.

The sunflowers are starting to open.....



I took a bunch of them to the farmer's market last Wednesday and they were a hit!

A friend of mine dropped by for some kale and took a picture of the booth......



Most of the produce grown on the farm goes to fill the CSA shares each week, but sometimes there is extra to sell at the market, like the ever popular "Fresh Eggs from the Happy Hens".  This particular day I was sold out of eggs before I got to the market!

The broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts plants all succumbed to the deluges that we've experienced this year so they've been removed from the garden, devoured by the chickens, and have probably already returned to the earth in the form of fertilizer.   We're less than 10 inches away from our yearly average rainfall in this area and a lot of gardeners have given up on the season, but when one does this for a living, you can't give up.

Fall crops are being sown both in the gardens and in flats for transplanting--what's that saying....."no rest for the weary?"



And the Winners of the 2013 Wild Things New Veggie Varieties are.....

As each growing season is planned, along with the tried and true favorites, I always like to try some new things.   After pouring through the mountain of seed catalogs and following rabbit trails all over the Internet, the decisions have been made:  which new veggie varieties will make it to the ground this year?  (A few of) the winners are:

Jade Cross Brussels Sprouts....hold the applause...this is the first time I've tried Brussels Sprouts in YEARS.  This variety matures quicker so maybe I won't have to torment over it in the garden for so long....

Russet Potatoes--going for some bakers here in addition to the Kennebec and Red Pontiac.

In the pepper category, Ancho San Martin, Georgia Flame, Cabernet, Purple Cayennes, and Lipstick peppers join the myriad of peppers already on the books.  Peppers seem to like the soil in one particular garden here on the farm, so I try to rotate them there every couple of years.

New salad tomatoes being grown this year include every kind of salad tomato you can imagine and a couple more.  I've really gotten into the salad tomato mix--it's a real hit with the Wild Things followers and I LOVE to package them up--it's like playing with M&M's.   All the colorful and tasty salad tomatoes will be marvelous on top of the new lettuce varieties.  Names like Cherokee, Panisse, Skyphos, and Summertime will join the popular gourmet leaf lettuce mixes AND two iceburg-type lettuces will be trialed in the garden this year.

A horticultural bean (eaten shelled but not dried) called Tongue of Fire has arrived for planting and will be growing along with the usual Roma II, Blue Lake, and Jumbo beans.  A filet bean called "Masai" is scheduled to make an appearance at some point during the season as well.  

Lots of heirloom tomatoes will be planted again as in years before, and a few new ones are going to be added; Nepal, Cherokee Purple, Holy Land--hopefully they will be worth saving seed from for future gardens-- Hippie Zebra --that one sounds like a keeper to me :-)

A couple new summer squash varieties, Magda and Safari, will be added, and oh, I almost forgot the coolest one of all.....Veronica Romanesco.  It's classed with cauliflower but it looks like some kind of cool alien vegetable--



Well, that's about all of the new crops I'm going to share.....I can't tell you EVERYTHING.... if you're within the reaches of Wild Things this coming season, you'll just have to check it out for yourself.  


A "glomato"?

If there were a contest for the ugliest tomato, I surely believe this one would be in contention:

See, I told you this has been a really weird growing season........


Really "wild" things

While cutting flowers in the front garden last weekend, I spied the strangest Rudbeckia I've ever seen.  I had to look twice and blink my eyes to make sure I was seeing just exactly what I was seeing....here it is

Yes, you are seeing correctly.  The flowers in the front of the picture got hung up on the "black-eye machine"!

I'm going to save the seeds but they probably won't come back like this.  It's always fun to see different things like this in nature; well, fun as long as it isn't a frog with three eyes or something different like that!


Yet another creative use for plastic grocery bags

Any of you that grew up when paper grocery bags were the only option at the store knows just how handy the plastic bags are that we get now.  I know they are annoying and they have a bad habit of multiplying in the cabinet, BUT could you imagine being able to carry in 9 paper bags of groceries at one time?  Nope.

Plastic grocery sacks are recycled here on the farm to hold veggies, bag trash, and even stuff floating row cover in and mark the bag with a marker as to which garden bed it fits.  The latest "aha" moment came when I was wearing lace-up boots and wanted to come in the house without tracking garden debris everywhere........

Voila!  I have hundreds of shoe protectors...........and my floor stays a little bit cleaner :)


Starting Sweet Potatoes

It's always fun to get new things to "play" with here on the farm.  This year there's a "sweet 'tater startin' box" right next to the orchard.  The box was constructed right on the ground, much like a cold frame---well, I guess technically it IS a cold frame, but its main purpose in life is to sprout as many sweet potato slips as possible before it's time to plant them in the garden.

The box is made from 4 slabs of Crab Orchard stone, around 12-15" tall, 7' long, and 1.5-2" thick.  They were stood on edge and held in place with metal stakes on the outside of the box.  A pressure treated board was then glued and fastened around the top edge to accommodate fastening hinges to the lid.

A few pieces of aluminum that were left over from the small greenhouse were fashioned into a top, hinges screwed in place, then plastic fastened on the top.

The box was then filled with horse manure and shredded leaves, then mushroom compost.  The potatoes were all placed inside then covered with compost.  2 heat lamps provide heat when the sun isn't shining and a thermometer is stuck in the soil so I can keep an eye on the temperature of the potatoes (wouldn't want to burn them....lol).  BTW the thermometer is a meat thermometer that I normally use for soap making.  Temp is temp, right?  The thermometer doesn't know if it's stuck in a roast or dirt.....or soap for that matter.

Back to the bin......it's located adjacent to an electric fence charger station where an outlet was installed, so an extension cord powers the heat lamps.  Here are some pics.....


The whole contraption is covered with the frost blanket and tarp at night and if it's cold during the day.  The best part about the whole project is that almost everything came from items salvaged.  The only things purchased were the 2 heat lamps, one of the fixtures, some screws, and the mushroom dirt (the horse manure has way too many seeds to be on top exposed to sunshine).  The entire bill was around $30.00.  After the sweet potatoes evacuate the site, something else will occupy the space during the summer.


Late winter on the farm

Although mud is still the most popular flooring in the great outdoors, spring is creeping through the cracks.  A couple of freezer burned hyacinths stand amidst the bones and skeletons of the front perennial garden, and the spring peepers have been screaming out their mating calls for the past several weeks.

Several sunny days have been enjoyed by the resident farm dogs, Angus the boxer and Hattie the Catahoula.  Angus cracks me up the way he sits with all his legs sticking out in front of him.  I've taken several pics of him in this position, but his "plumbing" shows too much.  I was able to catch him in the pose in the flower garden outside the greenhouse.  Hattie is snoozing in the background.  He can sleep sitting up very well!


The warm sunny afternoons beckon me to the woods for a late afternoon stroll.  It's more fun to walk in the woods right now before the ticks, chiggers, poison ivy, and ssssssssnakes start terrorizing the woodlands.  I caught Hattie posing on a bluff just above one of the garden areas:


The small greenhouse is getting full of seedlings on their way to becoming transplants, then to garden plants, then onto some lucky person's plate!

The heart of the farm flows out of the mountain bordering one side of the property.  This stream flows year round and is utilized to water the crops and happy hens that live on the farm.  A resident kingfisher enjoys the bounty of minnows in the small pond and the dogs like to play in the water on hot summer days.  Personally, I think it's too darned cold to get in.



The high tunnel is still producing great fresh veggies for sale and personal consumption.  This winter the tunnel has produced swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, and one harvest of spinach.  For some reason the spinach just didn't grow at all.  I believe the soil got too wet early in the season and just never dried out.  Next year the spinach will be elevated to new heights!

In the right hand side of the tunnel, the stubborn spinach was yanked out and snow peas planted in their place.  The row covers are handy when the weather outside is frigid, but they've only been utilized like two times this past pseudo-winter.  Early tomatoes, beets, carrots, more lettuce and spinach are going into the high tunnel over the next few weeks.

Whew, to be winter time and the "down season", I seem to be awfully busy :)


New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

During the yucky days of winter the Happy Hoer does a lot of surfing ....... I also subscribe to several blogs of interest.  Just this morning a new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was published, with a feature where you can type in your zip code and your map will magically appear :)

Check it out   www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov 


Rutabagas and Turnips

Last year, while in the produce section of the local supermarket, I purchased a rutabaga.  I did a blog about how wonderful it tasted and made a note to grow them this year. 

In mid-July I planted three rows, each about 180 feet long.  The seeds germinated, I dutifully thinned them to 5" apart, the cabbage worms came, I sprayed Bt, and I kept watching and waiting---man do they grow slow!

Botanically speaking, a rutabaga is a cross between a turnip and cabbage.  I'd say culinarily speaking it tastes like a cross between white potato, sweet potato, maybe a tad of cabbage, and a faint hint of turnip.  It's a great taste, anyway.  They kind of look like turnips but they aren't colored as brightly, have more roots on them, and they are harvested at a much larger size than turnips. 


The last CSA delivery of the season was last Friday.  I ventured into the rutabaga patch to see if there were any "early birds" fit to put in the day's delivery.  I was pleasantly surprised!  There were just enough large ones to fill the shares on Friday AND I got 2 monsters to try meselfeee.  One of them is about the size of a cantaloupe and the other was about 5" in diameter. (The big one just to the left of the middle is the cantaloupe size one and it may be like cutting a pine knot.)   I cut the second-to-the-largest one up and roasted it with some sweet potatoes and again, YUMMEEEE!  I peeled and chunked the veggies up into 1" squares and tossed them in a baking pan.  Then I mixed up 2T olive oil, 2T honey, 1t lemon juice and drizzled that over the veggies and roast at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until tender, stirring every 10 minutes or so.  Very tasty and simple. 

This has also been a very good turnip year.  They are firm and sweet and great either raw, mashed, or roasted.  Some people boil them but I don't particularly care for them that way.  Anyway, I love pulling turnips--it's kind of like hunting purple Easter eggs.  When they are ready to pull they pooch up out of the ground so you can see the pretty purple tops on them.


Several of the farm members had never tried them before and said that they actually liked them once they tried them.  It's a good substitute for a radish in a salad too!

Eating in season this time of year is very satisfying because a lot of the veggies are "comfort" food.  Personally, I think any food is "comforting" if I'm hungry!

p.s.  We're having a gorgeous fall here in Tennessee--hope everyone else is too :)



Bad bugs gone good?


We've always heard the expression good guys gone bad, but bad guys gone good?

In the hoophouse, tomatoes were planted in late winter. During the summer they produced and produced bunches of tasty tomatoes. In the process, the tomato hornworms found them, even inside the plastic surround of the hoophouse.

There are parasitic wasps that like to feed upon these giant green monsters that devour tomato plants, and I haven't really experienced them in the hoophouse yet, so I sort of panicked when I saw so many hornworms on the tomato plants, but then I noticed that most of them were decked out with little white globules on them. "Parasitic wasps"! They did venture into the tunnel! I don't think I've ever seen so many hornworms on tomato plants, BUT I've never seen so many parasitic wasp eggs either. The hornworms that had eggs on them got to stay on the plants (it was hard to do, but I left them). These are the "Bad guys gone good". I'm hoping the parasitic wasps will find a place to winter over in the warmth of the high tunnel. The hornworms that didn't have any eggs on them? Well, even the chickens won't eat them, so they must be bad.

By the way, birds fly freely in and out of the high tunnel too. I sure hope they are working on the grasshopper population in there! It's a lively place :)



It's Getting Kinky Around Here

I know we're not as dry as other folks are, but it hasn't rained around here in several weeks. Needless to say, the irrigation pump has been working overtime. A lot of the gardens have drip tape installed in them which makes watering them as easy as turning a valve.

Two of the gardens, any seedbeds, the orchard and the flower beds all require dragging a waterhose and a sprinkler. This is where life gets kinky. Every time I have to drag hoses around I'm reminded that "you get what you pay for". I've got two 75' yellow hoses that I was really proud to have purchased at the Dollar General Store, about 3 years ago, for $7.00 each. They have worked pretty good but they do kink when they've been rolled up and stretched back out. That means several trips back-and-forth as the hose is stretched out because you can stand there and twist and twist and twist and that kink WILL NOT come out! Another time I had one hooked up with a valve on the end of it for use in the greenhouse. With pressure on it day-in and day-out, I noticed one day that right at the end of the hose was a giant bubble, like 6" in diameter! I had never had a hose to do that before--it never busted, but I cut the end off and put a new end on it and it's still working just fine.

Last year I needed another water hose so I went to Lowe's. Being a farmer on a budget, I opted for a middle-of-the-road "Swan" brand hose. This has to be the absolutely WORST water hose I've ever bought. It kinks in fear when you look at it. If one were to leave it laying straight, never move it, it would be fine. Every time I use it I swear I'm going to e-mail the company to complain about the worst hose I ever bought but by the time I get back in front of the computer the rage has subsided and I forget.

The best hoses are the black ones with the yellow stripe on them and they clearly state "kink proof" on the package. I don't know the name of them but they look like a garter snake when they're laying on the ground. I've got two of them and I pledge from now on to never buy another water hose until I can afford to buy more of these. They do get a kink in them once in a while but if you just wiggle it the kink will come right out--it's magic!

While I'm gardening I prefer to not get kinky :)


Thank goodness for heirloom beans

You know what?  The best planning sometimes just goes to pot.  I spent a good amount of time planning the green bean harvest so as to not be overwhelmed by beans ready to pick.  Checking seed labels for days to harvest, staggering plantings, etc. 

Well, the best plans don't always work!  Mother Nature decided that four of the varieties of green beans all needed to be harvested at once!  Hellooooo, it's not like I have an army of pickers here.  So, I start picking, and picking, and picking.  The CSA members today got three different varieties of beans and when I went back out this aftenoon, I realized the yellow wax was ready to pick also---arrgggggghhhh! 

The farmer's market in town is tomorrow so I'm picking for that.  This year I tried a purple bean, along with the yellow wax, Romas, and Kentucky Wonder. This morning was CSA delivery day so I had to get that taken care of, but this afternoon was spent in the bean patch.  When the daylight faded into dark I was picking the purple beans.  I thought to myself, "these are hard to see in the dark, maybe I should switch back to the yellow".  Then I thought, "hey, these guys are all open-pollinated, I can save the seeds." 

So, I stood up, surveyed my seed bank, smiled to myself, and went in the house.


The Squash Bug Capital of Tennessee

After this spring, I've dubbed Crab Orchard, or at least Wild Things Farm the "squash bug capital of Tennessee".  I practice crop rotation every year, but seems like the bugs have a radar or a spy at my computer looking to see where the squash and cucumbers are going to be planted.  As soon as a seed germinates and comes out of the ground--wham!  It's eaten.  There are times that I've seen a handful of bugs around one plant.

This spring I sprayed rotenone/pyrethrum on the stem and saturated the roots of the plants every 3 or 4 days just until they could get enough size on them to grow, but the challenge of out-smarting these bugs has been, well, bugging me.  To overcome a problem you have to "become the problem".  So I started thinking like a squash bug.  Get to the stem and dig just under the soil, lay eggs and split.  Eggs hatch, become larvae, pierce the stem and crawl inside. 

I'm always looking for creative ways to use leftover things rather than tossing them, so I had this bag of torn up row cover.  I cut the row cover into little squares, about 6" square,

Then I wrapped the stem of my transplants (I started these in the greenhouse under strict supervision) with the reemay squares,

I then covered the reemay with soil and left the stem-wrapped part in its normal position, above ground.  Yes, it's tedious, but spraying so much isn't fun either.   It's only been a couple of days since this was done, but I think unless the bugs bring scissors with them, they might have a problem getting to the spot to lay eggs.  We'll see.


How to wash your favorite garden hat

I'm sure every die-hard gardener has their most very favorite gardening hat.  Mine is a Scala hat, very wide brim, that has perched on my head going on three seasons now.  It's made of palm leaves, but very tightly woven and durable.  Margaret the Mantis ( a pin) guards the hat against insect predators.......

Anyway, I've been noticing that the hat was getting pretty funky looking from sweating in it every day, adjusting it with dirty gloved hands, laying it aside while doing something in the garden that warrants the hat being removed, and just three years of constant use.  I bought a new hat, but it just isn't the same.  Sooooo, I began trying to figure out how to wash the hat without destroying it. 

I sprayed the entire hat with Shout laundry pre-soak, really soaking the sweatband inside and the dirtiest spots on the hat.  I then placed the hat upside down on the top rack of the dishwasher and I put a coffee cup inside it to keep it from moving around in the dishwasher.  I don't have my dishwasher set on  what I call the "nuclear cycle" where the washer heats the water so hot it melts plastic, but if yours is set to destroy plastic items I would suggest putting it on energy saver or whatever cycle cancels the water heater.  I set it on a short wash and it came out really pretty clean.  There is still a very faint spot in the front where sweat soaks through, but now I can once again wear my hat in town without being embarrassed, and Margaret likes it too.



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